May 3, 2002

Hill to lead diversity initiative at VUMC

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Hill to lead diversity initiative at VUMC

George C. Hill, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology at Meharry Medical College, has been appointed to a newly created position at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine — Associate Dean for Diversity.

Hill, who will begin his new role on July 1, will oversee efforts to promote Vanderbilt as a “receptive, positive environment” for minority faculty, house staff, students and patients. He will report directly to Dr. Steven G. Gabbe, dean of the School of Medicine.

Hill also will be a tenured professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and will hold the newly created Levi Watkins Jr. Professorship for Diversity in Medical Education at Vanderbilt. The professorship is named for the renowned Johns Hopkins University heart surgeon who was the first African-American to earn his medical degree from Vanderbilt in 1970.

Gabbe said Vanderbilt was “very fortunate” to have attracted Hill, who has a national reputation in medical education and research, and who also is very knowledgeable about the medical school and its alliance with Meharry. Hill understands “how we could expand our diversity not only of medical students but at all our educational levels, including residents, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty,” Gabbe said.

“I am excited about joining Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and helping to achieve the vision and goals of Dean Gabbe,” said Hill, former Vice President for Sponsored Research at Meharry.

“I think Dr. Hill will make an outstanding contribution to Vanderbilt’s endeavor to enhance the diversity of its programs, student body and faculty,” said Meharry President Dr. John E. Maupin Jr. “He has made tremendous contributions to Meharry Medical College … and he will continue to be of great value to Meharry while he serves in his new role at Vanderbilt.”

“Our faculty, staff and students need to reflect the society in which we live,” said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “For too long, Vanderbilt has trailed its peer institutions in attracting applicants from a broader spectrum. Steve Gabbe and George Hill will make a huge difference in this effort.”

Several programs already are underway at Vanderbilt to recruit and train medical and graduate students from underrepresented minorities. They include the Office of Minority Medical Student Affairs, the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training, and the Bridges program, a pathway from the master’s degree to the Ph.D. that is designed to increase the number of minority biomedical scientists.

Gabbe has been committed to increasing diversity in medical education for many years. He said he wanted the efforts at Vanderbilt to be expanded, and to be led by someone at a senior level. “We are one of a rather small number of schools that have placed this leadership at the Associate Dean level,” he said.

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, 24 of the nation’s 125 medical schools have programs in diversity, minority affairs or multicultural affairs that are led by an associate dean.

“There are data that show if you train medical students from underrepresented minorities, they go out and care for patients from underrepresented minority populations and they improve the health of those populations,” Gabbe said. “One of our major concerns is the disparity in the outcome of important diseases like cancer and diabetes. We think this is one way to address that problem.”

Diversity goes beyond enrollment figures, Hill added. “It’s putting in place steps that will increase diversity in the curriculum, … in the patients, … in how one treats patients and addresses their needs when they come from a different background,” he said.

Hill said Vanderbilt medical students have expressed strong interest in learning more about the disparity in health status and health care outcomes between members of minority groups and the nation’s majority white population. “It’s exciting to me that there’s a lot of interest at the medical center in having diversity in many different ways,” he said.

Since coming to Meharry in 1983, Hill has held several administrative roles at the historically black college, including Director of the Division of Biomedical Sciences, Associate Vice President for International Programs, and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research. He said his experience working with dedicated and committed faculty to attract more than $25 million in funding for research and research training at Meharry should be beneficial in garnering funds for the Vanderbilt initiative.

It is important, Hill said, to encourage minority doctors and researchers to train at an institution, like Vanderbilt, that can prepare them for leadership positions in numerous fields in academic medicine including administration and clinical and basic research.

“I know (minority) faculty will want to come here when they see the core facilities and outstanding faculty colleagues at Vanderbilt,” Hill said. “More graduate students will want to come when they are made aware of the quality of ongoing research. I think medical students will want to come when they see the type of training that one can get here.”

Gabbe said Hill and other Vanderbilt administrators would visit college campuses across the country “to make certain their students understand the opportunities at Vanderbilt.” Hill will help residency program directors in their recruitment efforts, and will be part of the faculty and chair search committees, the dean said.

At the same time, Hill said he would continue his research on sleeping sickness, a tropical disease that infects at least 300,000 people every year. During the past 25 years, Hill has contributed to more than 50 scientific papers on the trypanosome, the protozoan parasite that causes the disease.

Currently he and his colleagues are honing in on the trypanosome alternative oxidase, an enzyme required by the parasite to survive in its host. A paper was published this year in the Journal of Biological Chemistry from his laboratory with Dr. Wilfred Ajayi, and Minu Chaudhuri, Ph.D., characterizing the active site of the enzyme.

With the help of Kelly Chibale, Ph.D., chemistry professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, “we have some compounds that we are testing,” Hill said. “They inhibit the enzyme; they inhibit the trypanosomes when they are growing in culture. The (next) step is to see if we can kill trypanosomes in laboratory models.

“In addition, we shall continue efforts to purify and then crystallize this unique enzyme,” he said.

A native of Morristown, N.J., Hill earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from New York University, and was an NIH Special Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge Molteno Institute for Research in Parasitology before joining the faculty at Colorado State University in 1972.

He has received several honors for his contributions to research and teaching, including a “Giant in Science” award by the Quality Education for Minorities Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the education of minorities. A Fulbright Scholar to the University of Nairobi in 1982, Hill was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1998.

This year Hill was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. He currently serves on the Advisory Council for the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health.

He is married to Linda Hare, Ed.D., and they have four children.